The Salish Sea is part of the economic engine of the state, the source of communal pride, our shared vernacular and a spiritual, hallowed ground. Let’s think ahead. Let’s stop dumping sewage in it.
THERE are few views more iconic for us proud Northwesterners than a sunset over the waters of Puget Sound. Nothing more stunning than experiencing it from the helm of a boat, mid-fjord.
In Puget Sound and Lakes Union and Washington, however, that beauty belies the troubled waters below. Because of their geographies, circulation is poor, making these iconic waters uniquely sensitive to pollution. Toxic chemicals and other pollutants linger, unflushed.
To tackle the contributing insult that comes from boats, we should approve the Puget Sound No Discharge Zone, a designated area where the discharge of sewage (black water/toilet waste) from boats, whether treated or not, is prohibited.
If a no-discharge zone is established, no boat, whether a freighter, a cruise ship or a sailboat will be allowed to discharge waste anywhere within the designated zone. The zone basically extends from the Canadian border, through the San Juan Islands to the southern reaches of Puget Sound.
Sewage from boats affects our lakes, bays and beaches. That sewage includes bacteria, viruses and pathogens, and emerging chemicals of concern that can close shellfish beds and make humans sick.
We are collectively working hard to recover shellfish beds and keep our beaches clean for swimming and recreation, which is why a no-discharge zone is a priority of the Puget Sound Partnership Action Plan. Surprisingly, our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) region is the only region in the country where these types of zones have not yet been established.
There are 90 no-discharge zones in 26 states. And not one in our precious waters that we’ve spent so much effort and money to protect.
For the past five years, the Washington state Department of Ecology has been doing the background research, working with stakeholders to create a petition for a Puget Sound No Discharge Zone.
This petition was filed in July and, now in the final step before certifying the zone, the EPA is seeking comments from the public through Dec. 23 on the question of whether there is adequate pump-out capacity for boats to empty their holding tanks. (To send a letter: http://st.news/EPAletter)
In Puget Sound, we have more than the required amount of pump-out capacity for recreational and commercial vessels with both pump-out stations on docks, mobile pump-out boats and trucks.
The plan gives certain classes of commercial vessels five years to comply with this rule, the longest extension ever of any no-discharge zone. In other places, like the Great Lakes, tugs and other boats have been retrofitted to meet these rules, and five years provides more than enough time to implement needed retrofits for vessels operating on the Sound.
Currently, many boaters are confused by what is legal or not legal. Today, partially treated sewage may be discharged anywhere in Puget Sound, and untreated sewage may be discharged as long as the boat is more than three miles from shore. In Puget Sound, there are a few areas north of Seattle where boaters legally can discharge raw sewage.
As to the onboard sewage-treatment systems on most boats — they do not adequately protect water quality and public health.
The social, cultural and economic value of the shellfish harvest in Puget Sound — whether it’s tribal, recreational or commercial — is enormous. And it is a deep part of our heritage.
The shellfish industry has an annual value of $184 million. And while tourism and recreation also play a central role in our local economies, they all require the same essential ingredient: clean water. While pollution makes its way into the Sound in various ways, a no-discharge zone will help solve a discrete part of this complex equation.
As we think about protection in a world where the population is growing but the geography isn’t, we might ask, is the system too big to fail? We must begin to tackle the multiple insults to this stunningly beautiful chemical and biological system.
The Salish Sea is part of the economic engine of the state, the source of communal pride, our shared vernacular and a spiritual, hallowed ground.
Let’s think ahead. Let’s stop dumping. We can do this. It is 2016. It’s time to designate a no-discharge zone to protect our sensitive resources in Puget Sound.